Arrangement of a madrigal by Michele Pesenti (also known as Micha Pesentus, Michael Pesentus and other versions of the name). He was a priest in Italy (possibly Verona or Ferrara) and lived from about 1470 to 1521. This song “Dal lecto me levava” appears to have been one of the first of its kind to signal the move from the traditional frottole (which had mainly a homophonic movement, and often had just a single voice with instruments) into the more familar madrigal style, where all the lines were sung and where the movement was more contrapuntal.
My understanding of the original madrigal is that the priest is considering getting up for another day devoted to the Lord, but the crane, some kind of holy messenger, possibly even St Michael (who is sometimes referred to as the ambassador of the Lord), tells him that it is not yet time to get up . . .
The words of the original madrigal are as follows:
Dal lecto me levava per servir il Signor
Alhor quando arrivava la grua suo servidor
Gru gru gu gentil ambasciador
Che disse non leve, torna a dormir.
I was just arising from my bed to serve the Lord
When his servant the crane, his kindly ambassador, arrived
and told me “Don’t get up, go back to sleep”
Other points about cranes, which may possibly relate to this symbolism:
Some mediaeval writers report the behaviour of cranes that take turn in watching over the flock while the others sleep. In order to keep vigil the watcher crane puts a stone in its claw; this prevents it from nodding off, because, thanks to the stone, it cannot keep the perfect balance that it would require for sleep: